25 Things You Didn't Know A Chiropractor Could Do, #2: High Blood Pressure

More than a few patients have come to me for assistance in management of their high blood pressure, but these patients are easily outweighed by the patients I have who are already on anti-hypertensive medication -- and are now seeing me because of the side effects. I'm not surprised that few people know that high blood pressure can be managed by alternative means. It's an easy diagnosis to make for the MD, and a given money-maker for pharmaceutical companies. Because, once you get a patient on blood pressure medication, you've got a captive customer for the rest of their life. That's a pretty sweet deal if you're a drug company, but maybe not so hot if you're the guy taking the pill and stuck with the bill. Let's take a look at the common side effects of blood pressure meds:

Electrolyte imbalance, potassium depletion, elevated blood sugar, impotence, insomnia, depression,asthma, bradycardia, cold hands and feet, heart palpitations, swollen ankles, constipation, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, loss of taste, chronic hacking cough, kidney damage.

And those are just the common side effects. Fully 20% of those taking blood pressure meds report 1 or more of these adverse reactions. The full list of side effects is just too long to get into here.

The problem is that patients are not given the information needed for full informed consent before being given their pills. If diet or lifestyle is mentioned by the diagnosing provider, it is at best a drive-by recommendation, perhaps accompanied by a third-generation copy of the egregiously erroneous Food Pyramid or a recommendation to see a "nutritionist," who will -- guess what -- recommend a diet low in fat and sodium and suggest lots of fruits and vegetables.

There's a whole lot more to controlling blood pressure than that. Most importantly, the side effects of managing blood pressure naturally are all beneficial to the patient, in comparison to drug-based management which creates a whole new set of diseases, which require additional medications to control them. Is anyone surprised?

The Drug Free Alternative

How can a chiropractor help manage blood pressure?

The first step is through spinal manipulation, of course. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in 2007 found that chiropractic manipulation of certain joints in the neck was as effective as two-drug combination therapies in reducing blood pressure. Prior studies in 1991 and 1993, and published in peer-reviewed journals have shown similar effects with chiropractic cervical adjusting.

Lifestyle alteration is step number two. Chiropractors excel at helping patients make healthy lifestyle changes. It is labor intensive, but highly effective. And it involves far more than cutting out the cookies and eating your fruits and veggies. Hard work, but worth it in the end. Side effects of this therapy may include increased energy, improved infectious disease resistance, lower cancer risk and improved looks.

Honestly, would you rather have those side effects, or swollen ankles and impotence? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Herbs and nutritional supplementation can play their role as well. Of course, I have to be careful about statements like this because, while it's ok for Cheerios to claim that a daily bowl will stop you from having heart disease, God forbid that a chiropractic physician suggest that something like Hawthorn extract might reduce blood pressure. The FDA gets all bent out of shape when you start offering alternatives to their clients' cash cows.

So I won't make any claims about herbs or supplements reducing blood pressure. But if you want the research, just email me. I would suggest however, that you get together with your chiropractic physician and discuss these options, because clinical experience can reduce the amount of guesswork you would have to do otherwise.

Finally, a few needles can let some of the pressure out as well. Studies such as this one have shown that acupuncture can significantly reduce high blood pressure. Ongoing low-level  treatment may be necessary, but how is that any different from having to take a pill every morning?

Chiropractic physicians can offer their patients several safer, more cost effective alternatives to drugs for managing their blood pressure.

While drugs may in some cases be necessary, I argue that the non-drug alternatives be employed as the first line of defense against high blood pressure. But I'll wager it is rarely, if ever, done.

In fact, I'll put my money where my mouth is. If anyone can submit proof to me that any mainstream medical provider in Connecticut referred a patient to a chiropractic physician for treatment of high blood pressure -- despite the evidence that this should be the preferred approach -- I will give $100 to that person's charity of choice.

Email me, call me, or send the information by carrier pigeon. But I'm not holding my breath.